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Metro Looks At Mass Transit Options For Houston And The Region—Conservatives Don’t Seem To Want To Be Part Of The Discussion

Last week I attended a lunch for local political bloggers that was put on by Metro.

Metro is our transit authority in Houston and Harris County.

The lunch was held in the big Metro train barn out near the Astrodome.

Below is a picture I took that conveys a sense of the place.

The intent of the lunch was for Metro to gain favorable attention from local bloggers. After recently writing off $168  million in worthless assets, Metro could use some good press.

This wasting of taxpayer dollars no doubt further agitated many local conservatives who have long been suspicious of Metro.

There is nothing wrong with a public agency seeking positive public relations. Metro has goals and plans. Plenty of people of all ideological views use mass transit.

Metro has a right to make their case. The public can then decide what they think and how we should proceed.

Among those from Metro attending this blogger lunch were President and CEO George Greanias, as well as Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia. Here is a list of members of the Metro board.

Metro has been pressing hard in recent years for the expansion of light rail. While construction continues, funding is always a problem. The new Republican majority in the U.S. House puts federal dollars for transit initiatives in danger all around the country.  Though Houston light rail funding for the year ahead has been requested by President Obama, it seems that securing external funding for this longterm big-ticket item will be a year-to-year struggle.

My own view is that light rail is not likely ever to expand to the point where it represents an effective transit solution to the multi-county Houston metropolitan area. While Metro, at the moment, serves primarily Harris County, an important goal of Metro should be expansion of  mass transit options to our full region. Light rail is a contentious subject, not just because it is so expensive to build, but also because it’s limited scope in relation to the needs of our full metropolitan area give it the feeling of a scheme more suitable to Portland or Seattle rather than a useful tool for people who live 30 miles from Downtown Houston, Texas.

If I had to pick three top goals for Metro, they would be as follows—

1. Full regional cooperation.-–The potential environmental and fuel-saving benefits of regional mass transit in an area as large of the Houston-area must be realized. People in all parts of our region merit a mass transit option. (As long as they understand that it takes money to fund mass transit.)

2. Certainty that outlying areas of Harris County that are growing have sufficient mass transit options.— Metro must adapt to where people are living in our county.

3. Operational transparency and outreach across the ideological spectrum.—Metro must have local political support to meet the transit needs of millions of people in our area.

Regarding operational transparency, Metro now posts extensive data on how they are spending the public’s money.

Conservative bloggers were invited to the blogger lunch. This is what Metro asserted and I believe it.  None came. If they did not feel comfortable with the idea of Metro paying for the lunch, they could have offered to pay Metro the $10 or $15 or whatever it costed per person. They could have refused the meal. If they’d been excluded from the lunch, they could ask for an invite anytime in the name of fairness.

But it seems that on the whole local conservative bloggers don’t really want to be part of a serious discussion about how Metro should serve the public.What readers of these blogs have so far instead is a post by David Jennings at Big Jolly Politics where he seemed to go looking for a conflict with Metro.

I hope Metro has another blogger function and that bloggers of all political stripes show up. Metro is a public entity and is accountable to all in our community.

I’d be happy to bring my own sandwich if that would make everybody happy.

Perry Dorrell at Brains & Eggs and Charles Kuffner at Off The Kuff were two of my fellow Houston political bloggers who did attend the lunch.

Here is a history of urban mass transit in the United States.

(Below–Metro is looking for a way out from recent negative attention.)

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Blog On Track For Today Despite Minor Technical Derailment

(Blogger’s Note 2/22-11—Welcome Blog Houston readers. Blog Houston has linked to this spot in a post about Metro and a lunch that Metro held for local bloggers.  I have not yet written about this lunch beyond this one  post which I tossed up because I was having technical problems with the blog that day.  This being the case, suggesting I’ve fallen sway to a PR push it not correct . Conservative  bloggers, including at least one person from Blog Houston, were invited to the Metro blogger lunch. At that lunch, high-ranking Metro officials were available and open for any questions.  Blog Houston decided not to attend.  Blog Houston could have covered any subject matter they wanted with Metro at that lunch. It seems to be that rather then being a serious part of any debate, what Blog Houston wants to do is reflexively complain.)

I had another post planned for today, but the WordPress on my computer at home has been glitchy.

I’m writing this post on my phone from a lunch being held for Houston bloggers by Metro. Metro is the public transit agency in Houston.

The lunch is at a big Metro train facility. With this post is a picture of some light rail trains.

These trains run on a set route of tracks each day. You might require a greater measure of metaphoric flexibility in your life.

While this is not the post I had planned for the blog reading public, please know that I am indeed working for you.

And I’m getting lunch out of it.

I’ll have more on my trip to Metro in upcoming posts.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Light Rail In Houston And The Chimpanzee I Don’t Want To Be

It is difficult to know how to feel about the proposed extension of light rail in Houston.

(Above–Transportation in Minsk, Belarus.)

Four new lines, all in the inner loop as far I can determine, are on the table for a vote of the Metro Board in March. The cost of this project is said to be $2.6 billion. 

On one hand, I support mass transit. On the other hand, I support mass transit for all the people. Not just inside the loop.

For example, there is no bus on Highway 6 in-between 1960 and Westheimer. Yet many people live and work in this area and Highway 6 gets more busy each day.

How can we commit $ 2.6 billion for transit inside the loop without addressing all of Houston and the suburbs? (And when will all our Harris County suburbs grow up and incorporate and elect mayors and city councils and establish a police force beyond the Harris County Sheriff? Maybe these folks would get better services if they’d incorporate and find a coherent voice. )

A regional transit authority is clearly needed. Please click here to see my previous post of the likelihood of a regional transit authority in the Houston-area.

Then you have the issue of the folks on each side of the debate.

Seemingly against any extension of mass transit are folks who reflexively oppose government, hate taxes more than they value the future, and who think that if only they can stop the bus from coming their neighborhoods will be able to keep out “undesirables.”  I have supported light rail in Houston so far because it annoys conservatives to such a degree.

On the other side of the rail debate are what are often the most annoying folks of all. Liberals that I share 90%  in common with, but that remaining 10% is a difference in sensibilities that makes me want to send a check to the National Rife Association. An inside-the-loop focus that in the end values pragmatism and order over imagination and justice. These are the kind of folks I see getting most excited over these train cars. 

( And the idea that some have of streetcars for Houston! Oh!  As it says in Ecclesiastes– “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities…..”  Must we spend public dollars to remake a small portion of the county in the imagined self-image of a narrow few? )

Here is part of the Phil Ochs song Love Me I’m A Liberal

I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I’d lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.

It’s like how I can’t stand chimps and monkeys. I despise them for being so like myself, yet being something I very much don’t want to be.  I don’t want to be a nasty chimp. I don’t want to be a process-orientated  liberal who gets excited about boondoggle train cars in my neck of the woods while folks out in county can’t get a ride to work. Mass transit should not be about what seems cool or neat. It should be about getting people where they need to go. 

So where do I come down on the question of light rail for Houston?

When all is said and done, I’m for it as an extension of government in a small government region and state, as a job creation project, and because of the people it frustrates. It’s not like we’ll spend the money on something useful if we don’t build the trains. As for light rail being part of a coherent transit policy for the entire region, that is not part of the debate at this point. 

Light rail, so far, seems more an inner-loop vanity and a conceit to try to turn Houston into something it is not. But since it’s opponents offer nothing more useful than more highway building and endless government bashing, I say build the damn thing and let them stew. I’m with the chimps on this one. (Because, as I  sometimes face up to, I’m one of the chimps more than I’d like to admit. It can take so much effort not to revert to a less developed state. )

Now if we want to be serious and plan for light rail across the county and region, that’s something I could be on board with.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Houston, Music | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment